Thursday, August 03, 2006

Soccer Briefs -- Nothing earthshaking here, but the New York Times had some interesting tidbits: 1) D.C. United fan favorite, Dema Kovalenko, is about to ink with the New York Red Bulls. Personally, I love to watch Dema play, and I loved the call on United's Spanish-language radio broadcasts, when Dema scored (Deeema, Deema, Deema, Demaaaaa Koovalennnnko!). I'll miss that. And members of D.C. United's supporters sections (Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles) will be heartbroken to see Dema suit up in the hated Red Bulls' kits.

2) In a prior post, I suggested that the MLS would do well to move the Kansas City Wizards, rather than add teams to fulfill the league's ambitious growth plans. It seems the local soccer lords have seen the sense of it themselves. Odds are that the Wizards will be relocated to the Philadelphia suburbs. MLS has previously disclosed the league is working on a stadium deal with Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ stadium, with the major hold-up being owners willing to ink the deal. Personally, I've wondered about whether a team located there will really have the needed broad appeal to Philadelphia-area fans. Presumably, the MLS has crunched the numbers and done the opinion surveys...?

3) The Times also reported that Chelsea Manager José Mourinho was asked about the possibility of an American playing for the Premier League champs. “Chelsea is about the best players in the world, and I am thinking that at this moment the U.S. does not have players of this level,” Mourinho said. “You have good players, but not stars. I can understand why Brian McBride is in the E.P.L., he is good enough. I believe the game is improving in the U.S., but I think more important than having a player in Chelsea for American football is to have improvements in your own league.” Mourinho's comments can be found on the Times website ( at 2006/08/02/sports/soccer/02soccer.html

Mourinho's comments are right on target. In my post about Tuesday night's United game, I observed that D.C. United's Argentine striker, Christian Gomez, is the finest player in the MLS this year. In fact, I'd say that Gomez was the league's top player last year, as well, but he was overlooked nationally, because the Landon Donovan hype machine was working in overdrive then. Yet, Gomez is not even considered for his national side. The fact that he is the top player in the MLS speaks volumes about the dearth of talent in our little league.

Yes, the occasional American player, such as McBride, does show enough ability to interest European sides. But we should be more concerned about raising the overall level of play here, instead of worrying if there's one American, skilled enough to play for one of the E.P.L.' s top sides. One observation that seems apropos in light of the current heat wave: The league powers seem to be hinting at the prospect that the MLS will soon shift to the international schedule, taking the summer months off. I think the level of play and, most importantly, the pace of play will be much improved by giving up playing in the stifling heat of July and August.

This change would do more to speed the development of American players than anything else. As they get used to playing at faster speeds, they will be more able to compete against Europe-based players. Personally, I doubt this change will happen before the 2010 season. It's a Cup year, and I do think it likely the league may make the move then. Yet, the league may prefer to take advantage of the quadrennial attention to soccer by having a full schedule ready to go, on the heels of the 2010 World Cup.

Speaking of the 2010 Cup, did I mention that the Guardian (U.K.) is reporting that the lords of soccer (the members of FIFA's board of governors) do not believe that South Africa will be ready on time to put on the Cup? In 1984, FIFA voted to take the upcoming (1986) Cup away from Brazil due to similar fears. The honor of hosting the '86 Cup then fell to Mexico, instead. Mexico was deemed ready because the country had hosted the 1970 tournament, and most of the facilities were already in place.

According to the Guardian, the rumor mill is already cranking out hints that FIFA members are considering switching the 2010 Cup to the United States. Dare we dream? Unlike 1994, we wouldn't just be good hosts, with nice, big stadiums. In 2010, we'd have a bunch of serious soccer (O.K. -- football) fans, ready to go crazy themselves.

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